Among Animals reviewed!

Ashley E. Reis gave Among Animals and my contribution “Meat” a sweet review in The Goose Vol. 13 Issue 2.  Click the link to check it out.  Thanks, Ashley!

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Book Review – Three Parts Dead

Three Parts Dead (Craft Sequence #1)Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bad-ass magic lady lawyers in a mystical, steampunk world, have to resurrect a dead god so he can fulfill his obligations to his followers. This is ancient, do-ut-des (“I give to you so that you will give to me”) pagan religion taken to a logical, modernist conclusion. It’s world-building after my own heart, starting with the economy and the magic system and building its way up, with a few interesting things to say about religious devotion and collective projects. Oh, and there are vampires and gargoyles and an adorable chain-smoking young priest.

The premise is so cool and the execution so good, you might miss a few of the other sweet things Gladstone throws in just because well, I assume he’s an awesome person and committed to social justice: 1) Gladstone’s world doesn’t adhere to our notions of race, and the cast of characters are diverse in color, including our main character Tara; 2) when speaking in generalities or about a person of unknown gender, both narrator and characters (with few exceptions) use “she” instead of the universal “he”; 3) in keeping with steampunk’s usual Victorian aesthetic, characters ride in horse-drawn carriages here, but without drivers. Instead, they just pay the horse (who was always doing most of the work). Lovely.

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Book Review – One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer (Gaither Sisters, #1)One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like Rebecca Stead, Rita Williams-Garcia has a natural feel for how kids think, feel, rationalize, and worry. This story, told in first-person by 11-year-old Delphine, tells a politically charged tale in highly personal terms. That’s what attracted me to it, and the fact that I seem to be continually seeking books and media that I’d want my hypothetical children to read, to be be sensitive, informed, and politically aware.

Delphine and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, travel to Oakland for a month in 1968, to reconnect with their estranged mother Cecile (who goes by Nzila now). Within a few short pages, we understand Delphine’s position, a girl who has taken on responsibilities far beyond her years because of one parent’s absence. Vonetta is a performer who craves attention. Fern is vulnerable and innocent. Delphine shepherds both through social and emotional minefields — little realizing how much she also could use some love and guidance.

This would be enough for many a juvenile novel, but Williams-Garcia foregrounds this family drama against the broad backdrop of social justice. Almost by osmosis, the story introduces the reader to the racial and sexual politics of the time, to the Black Panthers, and the complicated social landscape that these young African American girls navigate. Through Delphine’s eyes, we learn different strategies for surviving a racist society. Back in Brooklyn, the girls’ grandmother Big Ma, who raised them with their father after Cecile left, takes an approach of accommodation and assimilation: the girls must always be on their best behavior, polite and unobtrusive, especially in the presence of white people. The Panthers and Cecile, however, are assertive. At the Panthers’ freedom school, children are taught their civil rights — lessons we hardly think are affecting cautious Delphine until she stands up to a shopkeeper who assumes the girls are thieves. Overall, the book deftly illustrates subtle shifts in Delphine, as she learns about and tries out other points of view and ideologies, coming closer to her Panther teachers Sister Mukumbu and Sister Pat.

Cecile, however, is the center of the novel as she is the central focus of the girls’ trip — and indeed, as her absence has been the central influence on much of the girls’ lives and experience. For most of the story, she is as mysterious to us as she is to her daughters. Why did this woman abandon her children? Is she just selfish, as Big Ma maintains? Slowly, we gain insight. After Delphine insists that they cannot eat Chinese take-out for another night and Delphine will cook for her sisters, Cecile relents and allows Delphine inside the kitchen, which she uses as a work space for her printing press. Here, Cecile comments that they have been fighting for freedom, while Delphine seems eager to put on a yoke again. In that simple line, we begin to grasp Cecile’s longing for self-determination in all ways, for herself as well as her daughters — but, failing her daughters, she’ll take it for herself. Later, when Cecile reveals more about her youth, we understand her even better. Here is a biological mother who isn’t willing to sacrifice all for her children. And, in the character of Delphine, we’re asked to reconcile our feelings for her with support for sexual equality as well as racial. It’s a delicate issue for any author to raise, let alone in a story for young readers, and Garcia-Williams handles it with great humanity. Cecile, a poet whose rejection of any servile position also led her to reject family responsibilities, is the counterpoint to Delphine, who up until now has accepted both her grandmother’s model of black womanhood and family ties with an almost Christ-like submission. Without simplifying the issues, the evolution of Cecile and Delphine’s relationship over the novel brings both closer to a place where responsibility to other people does not have to mean accepting a socially inferior position.

Did I mention the book is funny? While never shying away from the seriousness of the Panthers, racial injustice, and police repression, the characters are real people who do real and ridiculous things. It’s a pleasure to read. Much of the enjoyment comes from the kids’ imperfect understanding of Panther ideals, and the way Delphine comes to turn resistance techniques against the reigning power in her life — her mother. The story also gives us insight into the less dramatic moments of organizing and social movements: cooking free meals, folding newspapers, posting flyers. And the small moments that build relationships and seed political consciousness, like when “Mean Lady” Ming, who owns the Chinese take-out, turns out not to be so mean, but just a person trying to survive in an economically depressed neighborhood. A person not without compassion.

Highly recommended, for kids and adults.

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We made a comic!

Once in every fantasy writer’s life, they should get to 1) take a crack at Fairyland, 2) work on a graphic novel. Thanks to the witty, wonderful, talented J. Hollister Conroy*, I get to do both. And now….. The 13th Faery has arrived! The comic found its roots in Mr. Conroy’s artistic style and a short story by me, and continues to morph and grow in new directions through our collaboration. Vaguely, roughly, it’s the tale of thirteen faery (that’s with an “E”) sisters and the changing world they inhabit, full of spells, sprites, tree folk, mer creatures, man-ponies, and (of course) goblins.

The first installment, “Raiders from the North, Or: From Eeek! to Zut!” came to DC Zinefest on August 9th, while we debuted on Facebook and Tumblr.

2014-08-10_RFN_cover

We update on Tuesdays, so check us out and share it with your friends. If you get The Princess Bride, Neil Gaiman, or Isabel Greenberg’s Encyclopedia of Early Earth, you will get us.

For your socializing ease, you can follow us on Tumblr, like us on Facebook, tweet at us @The13thFaery, email us at The13thFaery@gmail.com.

 

*I could go on: generous, patient, inventive, curious… But I will not, at risk of embarrassing him too much.

Book Review – “…Or Not?”

...Or Not?…Or Not? by Brian Mandabach
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This may not be the kind of young adult fiction that a thirty-something can appreciate. But I went in wanting to like it.

Our protagonist Cassie is a 13-going-on-14-year-old vegan, child of liberal parents (whose views she seems to share wholly, aside from the veganism), social misfit. Okay, she hasn’t thought about the class system yet or the roots of poverty. Okay, she says she’s patriotic even though she won’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at school and she refuses to sing “Proud To Be an American” in choir (but “America the Beautiful” is okay…) — no, all the contradictions haven’t exactly been worked out. She isn’t a role model for the internationalist, anti-capitalist kids I hope my peers are raising. But yes, she is vegan and she does speak up for evolution when her Christian classmates challenge a science article. So there’s potential.

To be honest, Cassie is the kind of girl who would have terrified me as a junior-high student. Not because our core views were really all that different, but because Cassie so obviously opposes the “system.” I wouldn’t have understood the Pledge of Allegiance thing, or purposefully throwing a standardized test. And I definitely wouldn’t have gotten the atheist thing. In my junior high, I was a bit of a weirdo for taking Catholic social teaching seriously (like don’t kill. Seriously, don’t). So it was difficult, reading this novel, to accept the realism of a junior-high class that turns on a student because she doesn’t believe that the earth is 6,000-years-old or that Jesus is behind the stars. Perhaps the distance in generation (pre-9/11 v. post-) between me and Cassie, or geographic location (New Jersey v. Colorado), explains it.

Or maybe the authorship just isn’t all there. The novel consists of Cassie’s diary entries as she enters eighth grade, as well as three variations on a short story she completes for writing club. To his credit, Mandabach has written what I believe is a pretty realistic vision of this girl’s diary and inner world, proof that his experience as a teacher and parent has paid off. What it also proves to me, however, is that fictional diaries are not particularly fun or edifying to read.

I spent most of the 400-pages waiting for a plot to show up. Is it about Cassie’s relationship with her brother’s girlfriend Ally, the slightly older mentor to assure her “it gets better”? Is it Cassie recovering from depression and making peace with the world as it is? Is it her slowly developing relationship with the other misfits in her class, especially one boy? It’s all of these, and none of them, and in that sense reflects the messiness of real life. But I had expected at least to find the novel revolving around a central political question — must Cassie sing the hated song? Or will she be allowed to sit out? Will this lead to other students refusing to sing songs they object to, and will that snowball into some larger exploration of civil liberties?

But no.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a novel that doesn’t neatly present a conflict and resolution. But without a central plot, either internal or external, the author has to give the reader better clues to why we should keep reading. Aside from Cassie, I got very little sense of who or what the characters are like, precisely because we only see them through Cassie’s eyes in her journal. (I wasn’t particularly deft at character development when I was a teenager writing in my diary, either…) When Cassie starts to form a friendship and then more than a friendship with a particular boy, I couldn’t remember a thing about him from earlier in the novel, except that he’d been mentioned as another of her classmates that hung out with the misfits. The same went for Cassie’s original lunch-table-mates and tormenters (as far as I am concerned, an interchangeable group of shy Christian girls, and aggressive Christian girls and boys, respectively).

Other characters are introduced as if they will be significant, and then never show up to do anything significant, such as the one nice teacher at the school who runs Tolkien and writing club, and the school librarian who offers Cassie a refuge during lunch-time. A big deal is made, late in the novel, about Cassie going to therapy. After describing her first session in detail, her second session is only mentioned (okay, fine, we don’t need a play-by-play every time…)…and she never goes again, an entire plot point tossed away when Cassie simply asserts “I was never going there again.” This is, I believe, one way genre fiction tends to be stronger than general fiction; you just don’t find this kind of non-starter stuff in sci-fi or mysteries.

I did appreciate the realistic way, however, Mandabach handles the reality of things like suicidal thoughts, heavy fictional stories, and parental concern for teenagers. It’s a society where parents and educators are held responsible for kids’ total well-being — from predicting the kids who are suicidal or homicidal to just bullies or early drinkers or sex-havers — and preventing all risky and harmful behavior, while parents and educators don’t actually have the power to change the circumstances that make kids feel suicidal or homicidal, or like being drunk; and this translates to protectiveness and overreactions that Cassie’s diary keenly reflects. Her teachers and parents can respond to symptoms, but never root causes. When she writes a story that features the main character’s suicide, her teacher calls in administrators and parents for what amounts to an intervention. The concern would be comical if it weren’t so serious and so stifling. (On a side note: I found Cassie’s parents, particularly her lawyer, snappy-quipping dad, absolutely insufferable, a parody of actually cool, supportive parents, who do exist and have intelligent conversations with their children.)

Veganism is a feature of Cassie’s character that fits both her sensitivity to suffering and her connection to the natural world. With her love for vinyl records and disdain for most later technologies (this is actually a teenager who does not watch TV), she seems well on her way to primitive anarchism. While Mandabach gets a lot of things right about being vegan and living your life — Cassie orders a cheese-less pizza when she’s out with her friends, she buys her first make-up only after learning it’s all vegan — some of it felt out-of-step. Early in the novel, she describes her family’s cabin and her father and brother fishing. I kept waiting for her vegan’s-eye-view of the subject, but instead we first get a romantic description of her dad whispering to the fish as he catches-and-releases. Later, Cassie describes how, the year she was first vegan, she ruined the annual fishing trip by throwing a stone to scare the fish away right as her brother cast. After a physical fight between the siblings, Dad decided to cut the trip short: “No fish will bleed this day.” But that’s all we get. Whatever easy or uneasy truce Cassie reached with her family about fishing since then (because the other members of the family do continue to fish and Cassie presumably objects), this is left unsaid. It would have only taken another sentence or two, but Mandabach never re-visits it. Either it didn’t seem important to the author (who is not vegan, but does love fishing…) or he believed he’d already pushed his non-vegan audience far enough into animal rights territory. This is clearly not the story he wants to tell, or where his interests lie.

A worthy effort, with some very keen moments, but like many real diaries that get published, this one could have used some more editing.

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Book Review – “The Bees”

The BeesThe Bees by Laline Paull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Welcome to the hive. You are one of thousands. Your short life is dedicated to ensuring the survival of the hive. The queen bee is your goddess mother. You love her, and your sister bees, without thought. You have a role: cleaner, forager, receiver, guard, priestess, nanny, police. Your biology is your destiny.

What you, as the human reader, feels about any of that quickly becomes irrelevant. Your sense of morality, politics, and society has no bearing here. Instead, The Bees immerses the reader in the inner workings of a honeybee hive. Its heroine is worker bee Flora 717. She is born into a lowly caste, destined to spend her life inside the hive doing sanitation work. Except that from birth, she shows abilities beyond the life that nature and biology and hive hierarchy would have marked out for her. Therein lies the novel’s conflict and resolution.

To say more about the story would probably lessen the pleasure of reading it. The action moves quickly, and the plot takes new directions nearly every chapter, slowly broadening the horizons of Flora’s world and deepening its mysteries. Mysteries indeed there are — from how will the human industrial park nearby affect the hive, to is something wrong with the queen bee, and what was all that in the beginning about the nanny bees and the baby bees?

At times, the tale takes on shades of magical realism and mysticism. The world of the bees, although Paull also gives them human speech, is filled with scent and dance and near-psychic communication. The events of their lives are ritualized, often in terms borrowed from Catholicism. While they are biologically sisters and virgins, referring to each other as such, the bees take on the aspect of nuns in Paull’s language, who pray to Holy Mother (the queen). Witch-like spiders offer prophecy at a terrible price, and wasps, mice, birds, and humans threaten like mythological monsters. The story also shares the scope of an epic; by choosing such a tiny creature for a heroine, the world of the novel feels vast, and its events earth-shattering. The threats that Flora and the hive face are literally existential.

The book could have easily tipped into Orwell-style social commentary, or satire, or simple childishness, but Paull instead takes the setting and characters seriously, creating a complex culture that indeed is — so far as I know — accurate to what entomologists know of real bees. So, see metaphors, if you like, for human society in the hierarchical relationships among the bees: the sanitation bees like Flora are frequently described as “dark,” as are “foreigners” (bees from other hives); the priestess bees rule through a mixture of fear and religiosity; the male drones harass and order the female workers around; the fertility police brutally enforce the hive’s order. I am quite sure Paull includes these tantalizing descriptions in part because she wants us to reflect on human society. The bee society is horrifying in its rigidity — probably something of the dystopian world Veronica Roth attempted in her series — and yet in other ways I envy Flora and her sisters their nobility and most of all their effortless devotion to one another. It calls us to wonder about whether humans, in some time and place, are capable of the same.

But the book is also directly telling us something about bees themselves. Clearly, I have no way of knowing if the way Paull describes Flora’s inner world is accurate to what a real bee feels or thinks about. Yet the story does reach me in the same way as other literature from the animal P.O.V., books like Black Beauty or Charlotte’s Web. I finish it with greater respect for the small, brief lives of the tiny creatures around me, more care and more concern for their fate.

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Which Side Podcast interview available!

Thank you so much to Jordan, Jeremy, Mari & the rest of the Which Side Collective for having me on…twice. These people are good people, and if you don’t believe me, check out my interview with them here.  Listen to us discuss vegan restaurants in DC, cage-free eggs, writing, if I am an anarchist, and my handsome, handsome boyfriend.*

And….as a very special treat for folks who want a slightly more coherent version of me, you can listen to an extra, 30-minute bonus episode on humane meat, and veganism and animal rights in literature.

And that’s not all!  If you follow these simple instructions, you can win your own copy of Among Animals, along with a year’s membership to the podcast.

Don’t trust everything you hear on the internet.  Just most things you hear.

*Sorry, John.  And sorry, John.

Today we are honoring Betty

In 2008, my best friend and I brought our bunny Archie to an adoption day run by a local rabbit rescue.  We were hoping we would find a compatible friend for him.  The other half of his bonded pair had died two months before, and Arch was depressed living alone.  So we arrived, placing Archie in a pen for some rabbit-style speed-dating.  The bunny we came to call Veronica was an immediate stand-out.  When she was placed in his pen, he hopped over to her as if he’d recognized an old friend — and it made sense: she does look remarkably like his first partner, Horatio.

But then there was Betty.  Her sideways ears showed some lop-rabbit background, and her round shape and brown spots reminded us of a ladybug.  She was adorable, and, we were told, her partner had also died recently.  She and Archie met quietly, sniffing each other’s face, and then they sat down together, clearly enjoying each other’s company.  It left us in a quandary: who to pick?  Finally one of the volunteers suggested we put all three of the rabbits together to see if they would get along as a trio.  When the girls didn’t show any aggression toward each other, my friend and I looked at each other.  It was clear.  We were going to have three rabbits.

At home, as they adjusted, the rabbits’ personalities began to truly show.  Veronica lived up to her name, hungry for attention, both rabbit and human.  She’s also curious, an explorer, although the most skittish.  She is the first to hop over when anyone approaches the pen, checking to see if you have a treat, but accepting some ear massages even if you don’t.

Betty, on the other hand, was the most laid-back.  It was obvious that she was low-girl on the totem pole.  Veronica was able to chase her away from dinner or from Archie when she wanted to assert some dominance.  Betty didn’t seemed to mind too much.  She could always take a nap and come back later.  The only time Betty became aggressive was when banana was involved.  Then she was quite willing to challenge the other two for extra bites of their favorite treat.  Yet Veronica was obviously fond of her fuzzy round “rival” too — Veronica groomed Betty as diligently as she did Archie, and snuggled next to Betty when Archie was busy grazing or destroying a wicker drawer.  Betty had a slight head tilt all her life, and Arch and Veronica took turns acting as her prop when she fell asleep.  Or all three of them piled together for naps, Archie in the middle.

When she had the space to run and hop, Betty was our champion of the “binky,” a bunny leap of joy that goes straight up and changes direction mid-air.  When she did this, landing with an expression that suggested she’d surprised even herself, we’d cheer “Betty!” and know that today was a good day.  She also liked to hurl herself around the living room, pushing off the walls or the closet door with an audible thud, then stopping short to listen for the noise.  Her ears never went in the same direction two days in a row, sometimes one up and one down, sometimes both stretched out to the side like she was prepping for take off.

Though she snuggled and groomed with the other rabbits, it was Betty who was most often by herself, dreaming her bunny dreams.  I sometimes thought of her as a little yogi, contemplating secrets of the rabbit universe that not even Veronica or Archie had encountered.  Having seen with Archie what rabbit grief is like, I often hoped as our trio got older that the last bunny would be Betty.  She seemed the most independent, the most content in her own company.

It wasn’t to be.  In late January of 2013, she became noticeably sick with sneezing fits.  Archie was recovering from GI stasis (a serious condition in rabbits), and we, the human caretakers, were focused on him, our oldest and now geriatric rabbit.  My best friend had recently moved to her own place, and my human partner had moved in.  The changes surely were stressful for the rabbits; they were stressful for us, too, though exciting.

Betty’s sneezing wasn’t enough to set off alarm bells.  We thought it was a cold.  We took her in for a check-up in February, and our vet found two lumps on her body.  Still, there were no alarm bells.  These were probably benign bumps that rabbits often get as they age.  We took her home without asking for a biopsy.  That will weigh on me forever.

Over the next two months, we treated Betty for her sneezing, first trying to humidify the air in the apartment.  Then we considered a bacterial infection and tried antibiotics, then anti-histamines in case she had an allergy.  We also treated her for a common parasite, E. cuniculi, that can cause head tilt and other neurological disorders in rabbits.  In the meantime, I’d noticed other lumps on her body, but somehow couldn’t bring myself to think “cancer.”

It was cancer.  By the beginning of April, Betty was noticeably weaker, unable to get traction on the floor of the rabbit pen.  Our vet thought it could be arthritis, but when I brought her in and he did x-rays, what he found was more masses inside her.

By the time we knew for sure, the options were not good.  Possible treatments — surgery to remove the masses, chemo, radiation, injections that might shrink the tumors — were expensive and, unless we opted for the very risky surgery, not immediately available.  Veterinary oncologists are rare; veterinary oncologists who treat rabbits are even more rare.  Our vet said we would have to travel to a university with a veterinary program, and Betty might not even survive the trip; nor was there a guarantee that any treatment could help at this advanced stage.  We knew the stress of the car ride wouldn’t be good for her, and long absences wouldn’t be good for Archie or Veronica either.  They were quite aware when that a member of their small warren was missing.

With very heavy hearts, we brought Betty home and turned our apartment into a rabbit hospice.  We couldn’t think about euthanasia yet, though our vet suggested we might.  We wanted more time.  We wanted the other bunnies to have a chance to say good-bye.

It’s very hard to think about those last few days, watching our furry ladybug grow weaker and weaker.  In those days, though, Betty taught me a lot about love — what it means to really be responsible to someone, to pull together with a team to give someone the best, most comfortable existence they can have.  My best friend and my boyfriend were amazing — feeding, cleaning, administering fluids and medication to keep her comfortable, petting and reassuring Betty.  And Betty surprised me.  She was too weak to hop anymore, but our little loner desperately wanted to be near the other rabbits.  Looking like a sea turtle on land, she continually angled herself to where she could see the others, even presented her face to be groomed, though we often had to keep them separated.  Our vet warned us that Veronica and Archie might be aggressive toward her when they realized she was sick, but we never saw any of that behavior.  Archie and Veronica sat with Betty, and groomed her face as she lay in her hay box.

And when she went, just a year ago today, she went gently, early in the morning, with a belly full of celery and surrounded by the people who loved her the most, rabbit and human.  We left Archie and Veronica alone with her, to say good-bye and understand that she was gone.  Hours later, we bathed her body for the last time and prepared to take her to the vet, for cremation.

Much has changed in the last year, but much is the same.  Archie and Veronica are still with us, Veronica demanding attention and Archie well into his wise-old-man phase.  My best friend brings them newspaper to chew on, and grass mats and banana.  My boyfriend takes pictures of them at their best.  And yet the dynamic is so changed.  Where once they were three, now they are two.  The pen seems a little too large.  Veronica has too few ears to clean.  Someone is missing in those pictures.

When we talk about animal rights, we are so limited.  We think “rights,” and we mean that an individual’s life has meaning to that individual.  Yes, yes, it is so.  But this is atomistic.  It is impossible to understand the full meaning of a life, the true importance of it, without understanding the way every individual is part of a group.  Part of a social ecology.  Part of a home and a family.  Part of a warren.

It is so important that we honor Betty today.  For her.  Yes, of course, for her.  But for us, too, the ones who are left without her.

Which Side Podcast

On Saturday, I’ll be recording for a podcast interview with a couple of vegan anarchists.* We’ll be talking (among other topics, I’m sure) about my short story “Meat” in Ashland Creek Press’ Among Animals, and previously published by The Again, with illustrations from editor Mike Bonsall. Stay tuned for the air date.

In the mean time, you can catch the previous interview with John Yunker, co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.

*No, no, 2008 Charlotte, it’s not those vegan anarchists.**  It’s Jordan and Jeremy from Which Side Podcast!

**Anyone close to me in the years 2007/2009 knows I was fervent subscriber and listener of Vegan Freak Radio, hosted by Bob & Jenna Torres.

Book Review – American Born Chinese

American Born ChineseAmerican Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not a story about racism per se, but a story about the ideological toll of racism. There are three narratives, with three different tones, inter-cut with one another until the ending sews it all up. One follows Jin, a Chinese-American boy who moves out of a mainly Chinese enclave in San Francisco, and into a school where he is only one of two Asians in his class (soon one of three). This piece feels wholly realistic, and one can imagine that author/artist Gene Luen Yang drew a lot of it from personal experience. Some parts are funny (Jin’s parents are unfamiliar with deordorant, a major problem for their adolescent son on his first date), some parts are squirm-inducing (when a classmate asks Jin if he’s eating dog meat).

A second plot line could almost be pulled from the funny pages, if it weren’t so glaringly racist. This one concerns blond, all-American high schooler Danny, who somehow has a Chinese cousin, Chin Kee (the resemblence to the racial epithet is deliberate). Chin Kee embodies every negative stereotype about Asians, speaking with an exaggerated accent and embarrassing Danny at every turn. It would be maddening, except that we know Yang must have something up his sleeve.

The third plot, which actually opens the story, is a wry retelling of the Monkey King myth, most famously recorded in Journey to the West but referenced in such works of high art as the Jackie-Chan/Jet-Li vehicle Forbidden Kingdom. (This movie is one of my guilty pleasures, cultural appropriation be damned.) Monkey is, well, what you’d expect from a mythological monkey — a bit of a wise-ass, a bit of a trouble-maker, kind of stubborn and kind of willful. Yang’s telling is bright and funny, and hits all the high points in a way that makes the story accessible to readers who aren’t familiar with the source material and the cultural context. This could have been a comic of its own, and I would have loved it. Woven together with the other two plots, it becomes a beautiful fable about accepting who you are and what the world expects of you — but not being limited by it. And not being a jerk.

I adore Yang for doing something compassionate and warm and funny and unique. This is not a story to learn about structural racism, or how stereotypes get ingrained in people to begin with; it’s a story about coping, and getting along in society where those stereotypes do exist. And not turning on each other or yourself.

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